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Ambitious proposal for Sequoia Station includes 17-story building

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A developer is envisioning an ambitious plan to transform Sequoia Station shopping center into a dense downtown transit hub featuring a building as high as 17 stories.

Developer Lowe’ early-stage proposal includes up to 440 housing units for rent, up to about 1.6 million square feet of office space, and up to about 175,000 square feet of retail on 12 acres within and adjacent to Sequoia Station shopping center. Lowe is requesting a city general plan amendment allowing, in part, for building height increases and parking ratio reductions to achieve the density.

If City Council allows a general plan amendment to move forward, a formal application would be submitted “with more refined numbers and plans,” according to the city. Lowe said its initial proposal is a starting point of a thorough process that will include developmental and environmental reviews and public outreach.

Lowe described its project as transforming Sequoia Station into a strong employment and entertainment center with a focus on improving transit connectivity to downtown and creating the kind of convenience that would allow residents to travel about without cars.

The plan explores an improved bike lane infrastructure, walkable streets, eliminating surface parking, creating underground parking, and installing community gathering and open spaces, among other amenities.

“Sequoia Station’s size, scale and location allows for the strategic placement of density on transit, while allowing for a focus on non-automobile transportation modes and reduced parking ratios because of the site’s adjacency to transit and proximity to downtown,” according to Lowe.

For more details on the plans, visit the city’s website here.

Kainos Shines a Light on its “Stars”

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They hand out towels at the YMCA. They tend gardens. They chop veggies. They serve meals to homeless people and they clean houses. And on Saturday night, for three dozen clients of Redwood City’s Kainos Home & Training Center, who quietly contribute in so many ways to their community, it was time to be honored for all their good work and progress.

Then the minute that was done, to kick back and party, hitting the dance floor as soon as the last certificates and awards had been handed out.

A crowd of 360 friends, family members, mentors and other supporters turned out for Kainos’s 34th Annual Achievement Challenge dinner Sept. 21, held at the Foster City Crowne Plaza, a night to honor the adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities whom Kainos serves.

A gala tradition begun by Kainos’s founder, Dorothy Philbrick, the semi-formal event gives the clients a chance to work for special recognition, including the coveted title of “Citizen of the Year,” and to receive awards in front of a supportive audience. Progress is measured in things like being responsible and helpful, following through on work or household duties, and volunteering when an opportunity presents itself.

The Citizen of the Year honor went to Bill Janz, described by one of his biggest fans as “simply one of the kindest, most thoughtful and fun people you could possibly meet.” Since coming into the Kainos orbit in 2011, Janz is credited with being a “model employee and housemate” who also loves volunteering.

During his time at Kainos, Janz has developed into an inspirational leader, according to Kainos, working on a mobile landscaping crew five days a week. He also regularly lends a hand to feed homeless people through the Street Life Ministries program, where Kainos clients make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chop vegetables and do other food prep, and wash dishes, according to David Shearin, Street Life’s lead pastor and executive director.

“He (Janz) is kind of a leader,” Shearin said. “They kind of report to him in the kitchen. The folks at Kainos look to him as their leader.”

Shearin said a Kainos group also helps serve at dinners for homeless people, which are held at Menlo Church. The upbeat, happy attitude of the Kainos contingent “just kind of lifts everybody up,” he said. “They just are not your average volunteer. Their spirit is amazing.”

Kainos makes a lot of effort to find fulfilling and productive activities for the adult clients, which can include jobs as well as volunteering, field trips and other outings. Kainos’s four largest work “enclaves” are at the Redwood City, Palo Alto and Mountain View YMCAs and at NASA/Ames, according to Executive Director Andy Frisch. Kainos also has teams who work for Caltrans cleaning rest stops.

One of this year’s honorees works at Erik’s Deli and another has a new job at Home Depot in San Mateo. Kainos serves about 150 adults between its residential facilities and vocational training programs. Just under 80 of them chose to participate in this year’s achievement challenge.

“Our clients are getting the best possible care,” said 30-plus-year board member Paula Uccelli. “Their lives are full and rich.”

Beginning with its first residential facility on Jefferson Avenue in 1980, Kainos now owns and operates eight homes; the most recently opened, called Pete’s Place, is for seniors. Uccelli and Board President Barbara Rovins say the organization has plans to add another senior home, to serve clients throughout their lives.

What’s notable about Kainos today is the multitude of connections that have been made throughout the community, Frisch said.

“We love facilitating the ways for our clients to get to know the community and for the community to get to know our clients,” Frisch said. “People’s lives are better when they get to know our clients … We just want them to be part of the community.”

Since its inception, the achievement challenge has helped cement those ties. Participants are joined by a community “mentor,” who keeps in contact and encourages them as they work to reach for their highest potential. The mentors accompany the participants to the festive dinner and cheer them on as their names are called to receive awards.

Every year, once the formalities are over, though, it’s dance time. While friends and other supporters are still at their dinner tables debating whether to venture onto the dance floor, the Kainos residents and other clients are already headed there, grabbing a partner — or boogying solo. Within minutes, the dance floor is a jumping, happy, crowded space, as the Kainos pacesetters lead the way.

Woodside Deli announces it is closing next month

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Woodside Delicatessen, a Redwood City business launched 61 years ago and reopened last year after a remodel, announced Wednesday it will close for good after its lease runs out Sept. 30.

The announcement came after its landlord proposed a 52 percent increase in rent, said owner Kyle Vogel.

“Combined with the ever-rising healthcare costs (Woodside Deli has provided insurance coverage to its full-time staff for years), the rising cost and shrinking availability of staff…the numbers just don’t pan out,” Vogel wrote in a notice posted to social media.

Vogel added, “This sucks.”

“This obviously isn’t what I wanted to happen when I took over the Deli in 2017,” he said. “But the reality of being in Redwood City in 2019 is unavoidable.”

The deli, located at 1453 Woodside Road, will close sometime in October and options will become increasingly limited as the business sells off its existing stock.

The business has been serving sliced meats, salads, custom-built sandwiches and specialty products imported from Italy since 1958.

Photo credit: Woodside Deli Facebook page

Time to Chase the Chill

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The current weather feels far from winter, and yet it remains true that it has come time to Chase the Chill.

At Monday’s Redwood City council meeting, organizer Jodi Paley announced the fourth annual Chase the Chill event is coming up.

The event has community members of all ages contributing handmade items such as scarves, hats, socks, and gloves. The items are collected throughout the month of October. In November, they are hung up at various city locations, and each is tagged with a message that reads “take me if you need me or like me.”

Hundreds of items are contributed by the community to the effort.

Starting Oct. 1, collection bins will be placed at the Community Activities Building, Veterans Memorial Senior Center, Fair Oaks Senior Center, City Hall, Main Library and Redwood Shores Library.

Then on Wednesday, Nov. 13, community members will meet at the Community Activities Building to help sort and tag the handmade items before they are hung up around the city.

Don’t know how to knit? Try watching YouTube beginner videos. There are also easy-to-learn ways to knit with without needles.

“I see people as young as 6 doing this up to their 90s,” Paley said. “This is a community wide event.

For updates, visit the Chase the Chill Facebook page here.

Redwood City School District aims to test vape detectors

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School-by-school breakdown of reorganization proposals

The Redwood City School District is proposing to install vape detectors in bathrooms at Kennedy Middle School, devices that detect when someone is vaping and immediately alerts school administrators.

The district aims to test the vape detectors at the middle school at 2521 Goodwin Ave. in Redwood City before rolling them out to other school sites.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the Board of Trustees is set to decide whether to move forward with a $22,515 contract with Siemens to install the vape detectors at Kennedy Middle.

When the detectors sense vaping, the system immediately alerts school administrators by text and/or email, and analytics are provided to help determine when and where incidents most often occur.

The technology doesn’t only detect vapor, but also noise. It can detect and report loud incidents such as fighting or bullying, according to the proposed contract by Siemens.

District staff say funding for the pilot project will come from the Measure T  bond issue approved by voters in 2015.

The technology comes amid national concern over the prevalence of vaping among students at both middle and high schools, an issue revisited today in the New York Times.

To view the agenda for the Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday, go here.

Redwood City set to salsa

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The 12th Annual Salsa Festival will encompass 11 blocks of downtown Redwood City from noon to 8 p.m. on Saturday.

The fun festival will feature salsa music, salsa dancing, salsa tasting and, yes, even a tequila tasting. The public tasting, a competition featuring both professional and amateur chefs, takes place from noon to 5 p.m., and organizers say you should come early to be sure to try them all.

Three stages (Courthouse Square Salsa Stage, Latin Jazz Stage and Reggae Stage) will feature Salsa, Latin Jazz, and Reggae music. The kids will enjoy hands-on art projects and a play area with bounce houses. City and community booths and local food vendors will also be on hand.

The festival takes place on Broadway between Middlefield and Hamilton and on the beautiful Theatre Way, all of which will be pedestrian-only.

Photo credit: City of Redwood City

Handley Rock: Redwood City’s gift to rock climbers

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Handley Rock, a rare geological formation in the Emerald Lake area of Redwood City, has cleaned up its act – with a little help from its friends.

Featuring a series of caves, the rock, the centerpiece of a privately owned park, was for decades the target of vandals and graffiti attacks. A 1992 letter to the editor from someone living near the huge boulder complained that the rock and its beckoning caves were “a 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year hangout for largely underage drinkers, dopers, trashers and partiers.”

Arrests were few until 2017 when 10 vandals were identified and paid hundreds of dollars in fines. There were three incidents of swastikas being sprayed on the rock. Advances in technology get much of the credit for the arrests. As one online poster asked: “What part of ‘security cameras in use’ don’t people understand?”

Bill Vinci, current chair of the Handley Rock Park Association, doesn’t want to focus on the negative. “By and large the park is a treasured respite of open space,” he said. “It’s also deeply valued in the rock-climbing community.” For example, he pointed to the Bay Area Climbing Coalition whose members cleaned up the park in April, calling the work by volunteers “a real blessing.”

The sandstone monolith, about 50-feet tall at its highest point, is located on Handley Trail Way in the center of Emerald Hills. The only such rock in an urban area in San Mateo County, it resembles “skull rock,” the jungle home of the title character in “The Phantom” cartoon strip. Scientists say the caves were formed by water percolating through the sand and dissolving the cement holding the sand grains together.

The association, a private group of local residents and rock-climbing enthusiasts, operates the park. Not just rock climbers use the park. It also is a favorite of bike riders, walkers and picnickers. The area was so appealing, that 25 years ago owners Bev and Bill Oldfield wanted to preserve it as open space, which led to the formation of the association. Bill tried to donate it to the county but was rebuffed because of the small acreage involved. The association was thus born, thanks to help from the Access Fund, an open space group.

In a 1980 interview, Oldfield reported having problems with undesirable visitors. “Three years back a tough crowd got in there,” he told the Times Tribune newspaper. “I was hauling hundreds of bottle away. But with the sheriff’s help, I finally got the problem under control.”

Times Tribune reporter Janet Reinka wrote “rocks don’t change much but the people who visit them do.” She noted that the rock “was once a beehive of young children” who gradually had been replaced by mostly young adults. The lowest of the rock’s caves was known as “The Devil’s Cave,” which was big enough for three or four children to sit in and picnic or pretend to be Tom Sawyer. “For many who grew up in Redwood City, Handley Rock was one of the best secret places a child could find,” Reinka continued. “Former Sheriff Earl Whitmore and his brother Bob used to hike there from Birch Street to camp in the caves.”

So who was the Handley in Handley Rock? According to researchers at the history room of the Redwood City library, John Handley owned farming land in the area. He was also a deputy assessor. A son became a San Francisco police officer, while several girls in the family were teachers.

“The Handley family is identified with the early history of this city,” said a 1929 newspaper article about the retirement of Richard Handley from the police force. “The old timers will recall the boyhood of the retiring policeman and his sturdy father, who assisted in the upbuilding of Redwood City.”  The article described Richard Handley as nearly seven feet tall and 275 pounds, a man with “squared shoulders, without an ounce of superfluous flesh, a perfect giant.”  In hindsight, that sounds like the job qualifications for a guard who could scare away troublemakers at Handley Rock.

This story was originally published in the September print edition of Climate Magazine. 

Caltrain Faces a Crowded Future

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It’s 8:39 a.m. on a sunny Wednesday as Caltrain 329 pulls into Redwood City station, four minutes late. Every seat is filled, so 18 passengers stand in the last car and vestibule alone. A crowd of backpack-wearing commuters piles off the last Baby Bullet train of the morning.

Exiting passengers wend their way through a crowd of boarders and bicycles to tag off at Clipper terminals, which beep-beep like a Roadrunner cartoon. A young woman tries to board, only to be yelled at by the conductor. “Bikes on first please—you gotta learn.”

Some exiting passengers walk to the nearby Crossing 900 office building. Others head for the line of SamTrans buses or to Sequoia Station for coffee and bagels. It’s a vibrant urban scene that helps define a new downtown.

“Think of what’s a suburb. Back in the day it was a bedroom community,” says Adina Levin, who runs the Friends of Caltrain blog. “People commuted into the center city, San Francisco. Now we have the Redwood Cities that have many more jobs than homes and are in the heart of a major metropolitan area. It’s really not a suburb anymore, and that’s a significant transition.”

Redwood City was one of only two of the 10 busiest Caltrain stations that gained passengers in this year’s ridership survey. It’s the fifth largest station (after San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Jose Diridon, and Mountain View) with an average of 4,220 midweek passengers.

Surprisingly, after a decade of rapid growth, Caltrain’s average midweek ridership dropped 2.3 percent in this year’s survey, with 63,597 midweek passengers daily (since most commuters ride home too, the number of individuals carried is around half that). Overcrowding on peak-time trains was cited as one of the biggest factors in the decline, along with price increases for monthly passes.

The rail system thinks it can triple ridership by 2040. But with trains already so overcrowded at peak hours, how could that be possible?

Sebastian Petty, a Caltrain planner, has been working on something called the Long Range Service Vision–a plan to raise capacity. It consists of three alternatives—baseline, moderate, and high-growth.

By 2040, ridership would increase to 151,700 under the baseline, 177,200 under the moderate scenario, or 207,300 under high-growth.

Caltrain’s staff preferred option is the moderate scenario, while keeping the door open to further growth. Under that plan, there would be eight trains an hour at peak hours in each direction, or one every 7.5 minutes. Four would be local, the other four express.

Let’s say a passenger is traveling from Menlo Park to San Francisco. The local train would pick her up in Menlo and travel to Redwood City, then wait for the express to pull in. She would transfer to the express, which would pull out first. The local would follow–next stop, San Carlos.

Moving from the current irregular schedule to regular intervals would make it easier to connect with SamTrans buses and employer shuttles. The longest wait time at peak hours at major stations would be 22 minutes under the baseline scenario and 12 minutes in the moderate scenario.

In addition, four high-speed rail trains per hour in each direction would share the tracks, when and if that system is completed.

The first step is already under way—$2.3 billion in improvements, primarily for electrifying the route. Caltrain expects electrification to produce a 20 percent jump in ridership.

“Currently at peak hours we can run five trains per hour in each direction. That increases to six per hour when electrification is completed in 2022,” Petty said.

Caltrain is putting up poles alongside tracks to allow electric trains to run between San Francisco and San Jose. After the project is completed, about 75 percent of the trains will be electrified. Some diesel trains will still need to run, because Caltrain doesn’t own its tracks from San Jose to Gilroy and that part of the route will not be electrified.

After 2022, at least $16.3 billion in additional investments will still be needed, mostly by partners other than Caltrain.

  • $3.3 billion to complete the San Francisco extension to the downtown Salesforce Transit Center.
  • $3.4 billion for San Jose Diridon Station improvement and integration with other systems.
  • $2.6 billion related to high-speed rail.
  • $6.9 billion for grade separations along the route.

In addition, at least $3.6 billion, and probably more, will be needed for items like additional cars, boarding improvements, and expanded storage and maintenance. The total bill under the moderate growth scenario? $25 billion, including $2.5 billion already invested.

Is all this government spending worth it? Advocates say the expansion isn’t just important to people who ride the train. It’s also needed to keep the road system from becoming even more gridlocked as the number of residents and jobs continues to grow.

“What happens to Caltrain affects any sort of transportation on the Peninsula,” said San Carlos Mayor Ron Collins, a member of the Joint Powers Board that runs the system, at a recent board meeting.

Currently, Caltrain carries the equivalent of four freeway lanes of people during peak hours. Ridership growth is expected to eliminate the need for between 4 and 8.5 additional lanes, Petty said.

The need for transportation will grow with the population of San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, which is expected to be 4,620,000 in 2040, up from 3,320,000 in 2010. Most of that gain will be in a corridor within two miles of Caltrain.

Expansion also is expected to have public health benefits. Sick days would be reduced since there would be more people walking or biking the recommended 30 minutes per day to get to stations.

The environment also would benefit from the reduction of emissions by diverting auto trips and eliminating the remaining diesel train service.

Property values are also expected to rise. An analysis performed for Caltrain shows that single-family home values are 7 percent higher within one mile of a high-frequency station like Redwood City. The benefit is only 3 percent near low-frequency stations. The additional value for condos is a bit less, 2 to 6 percent.  Offices have the best return, with rents 20 percent higher within a half-mile of a train station.

Caltrain estimates its plans would raise property values $13-19 billion within a half-mile of a station, and $25-37 billion within one mile, by 2040.

The building boom around the Redwood City station makes the desirability clear.

Large projects are planned, like the Greystar Real Estate proposal for a six-block area on El Camino Real and Main Street near the train tracks. The site was formerly occupied by Towne Ford, Hopkins Acura, and other businesses. The plan calls for 291 apartments and 550,143 square feet of office space.

In August, a proposal by the Los Angeles-based real estate company Lowe Enterprises surfaced to redevelop Sequoia Station, including building housing and offices and revamping the core Safeway and CVS stores.

“There’s tons of transit-oriented development all along El Camino. When somebody’s proposing development within half-mile of a train station or good bus service, a lot of those folks will be able to take the train for some or all of their trips,” said Adrian Brandt, a lifelong area resident and transit advocate.

Some form of rail has been on the Peninsula since 1863. Redwood City and Palo Alto grew up around it and have substantial downtowns nearby. That’s unlike, say, Sunnyvale, which didn’t take shape until the post-World War II auto boom and isn’t oriented toward the train, Brandt said.

Why is Redwood City so important? Levin, who manages the Friends of Caltrain blog and frequently testifies at public hearings, says one reason is because of its central location between San Francisco and San Jose.

“Geometrically, they found from analysis they would need passing infrastructure in Redwood City because of in the middle of the line, a fast train could pass a slow train,” she said.

That would mean expanding the station to accommodate four tracks, with four platform faces, something that could be accomplished with two island platforms. The moderate growth scenario calls for a set of new passing tracks in Redwood City, while the high-growth scenario would extend them from Redwood City to Hayward Park.

There are already passing tracks at Bayshore and Lawrence, and more will be needed in higher-growth scenarios, including northern Santa Clara County.

Grade Separations: The California Public Utilities Commission requires that four-track rail lines are separated from roads, because of the danger. San Mateo County has 42 places where the tracks still cross streets at grade, snarling traffic and creating a safety hazard. Currently, 18 separations are being studied, Petty said.

Redwood City alone has six remaining grade crossings (Fifth Avenue, Woodside Road and Jefferson Avenue are already separated). Whipple Avenue, Brewster Avenue, and Broadway, north of the station, could require grade separations as part of the four-track expansion. Maple, Main, and Chestnut, south of the station, are less affected.

The city’s transportation plan calls for studying all six grade separations, with the northern three  getting higher priority scores.

The biggest problem is at Whipple. According to a city report, the intersection has average daily traffic volume of 16,000 vehicles. It is regularly congested at commute times around the tracks and El Camino Real, and additional Caltrain service will make it even worse.

In a community survey, a Whipple grade separation was viewed as the second most desirable transportation project after improvements to the Woodside-Highway 101 interchange, with votes by 60 percent of the 100 respondents.

The city is spending $850,000 (mostly through a SamTrans grant) to study alternatives. A simple grade separation at Whipple would cost an estimated $150-300 million in 2009 dollars. An alternative that would fully elevate the railroad between Whipple and Maple, permanently closing Marshall Street, would cost roughly $500 million, while fully depressing the railroad between Whipple and Marshall would cost even more.

Dumbarton Corridor: Another reason why the Redwood City station is so vital is that it’s the likely connection point if cross-bay train service resumes on the Dumbarton Corridor. Train service began from Newark in 1910 and freight service ran until 1982, according to Carter Mau, Caltrain deputy general manager.

However, the old wooden trestle was severely damaged by a fire in 1998. Studies are under way for whether a completely new bridge would be needed.

With Facebook looking for new ways to bring employees to its Menlo Park campus near the rail line, “there appears to be a market for re-establishing service,” Mau said. Facebook and the infrastructure developer Plenary Group are currently conducting a feasibility study under an agreement with SamTrans.

Besides Redwood City and near Facebook, possible stops are at Marsh Road and in North Fair Oaks.

On the East Bay side, Dumbarton rail could be extended from Newark to Union City, potentially connecting with BART, Capitol Corridor from Sacramento, and ACE service over the Altamont Pass to the Central Valley.

Redwood City would need a larger station if Dumbarton rail becomes a reality, Brandt said. Because of limited space due to the big-box stores at Sequoia Station, one possibility would be to move it north, even past Broadway.

High-speed rail: With long delays, no clear source of adequate financing, and the Trump administration pulling back nearly $1 billion in funds, the future of high-speed rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles is in doubt.

Strong Towns blogger Daniel Herriges likened it to the unknown status of the cat in the uncertainty principle for radioactive emissions.

“Physicists studying politically-radioactive emissions from California have stumbled upon the strange case of Schrödinger’s Train. Is it alive? Is it dead? Who knows; let’s ask an observer.”

Caltrain’s plan forecasts two trains per hour in each direction to a completed segment in the Central Valley by 2029, and four per hour all the way to Los Angeles sometime after that. From San Jose, the route would run through Stockton, Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield.

Southern California Democrats in the Legislature have been talking about diverting funds from the Central Valley segment to rail projects in the more populous Los Angeles and Bay Area, which could mean more money for Caltrain’s own projects.

Still, Caltrain assumes eventually the system will be completed. “If high-speed rail is delayed, it could be 2050 instead of 2040,” Petty said.

Redwood City isn’t currently on the list of high-speed rail stations (the nearest would be Millbrae and San Jose), but Brandt is hopeful. “If high-speed rail ever gets here, there’s no reason why someday in the future Redwood City couldn’t be a station.”

San Francisco extension: One reason more commuters don’t take Caltrain is the location of the main San Francisco station at Fourth and King streets.

The booming area around the station is no longer a sketchy mess and is well-situated for sports fans, near the Giants’ Oracle Park and the Warriors’ new home at Chase Center. But it’s bad for most commuters, who face an eight-block walk or slow Muni ride to the heart of downtown and the bus and BART connections at Mission and Market streets.

Plans are under way to extend the line to the new Salesforce Transit Center south of Mission Street between Beale and Second streets, which ultimately will be the hub for 11 transit systems. When the extension is complete, expected in 2029, Caltrain sees its ridership jumping 25 percent.

The extension is currently in the early design phase. The total cost is $3.9 billion, but the project faces a significant funding gap that will have to be resolved through a mixture of federal, state, regional, local and private sources, according to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

At the other end of the line, a project to upgrade the San Jose Diridon Station (near SAP Center) is in the design and study phase. At some point, BART and high-speed rail will join Caltrain, buses, and light rail at the San Jose hub.  Caltrain will fill the gap BART leaves between Millbrae and San Jose.

City’s Plan: RWCmoves, the city’s transportation plan, makes public transit an important part of its focus on reducing traffic congestion.

Its goals include eliminating traffic fatalities and severe injuries by 2030 and having non-driving modes account for 50 percent of all trips in the city by 2040.

According to the plan, Caltrain ridership in the city rose 73 percent between 2006 and 2015, from 1,840 to 3,240, the plan says. Only 5 percent of residents take public transit to work, but 20 percent are interested. Shuttle ridership is over 2,500 a month and over 10 percent of respondents say they’d be interested in taking shuttles.

Transit already accounts for 36 percent of the city’s downtown office commutes, compared to only 13 percent in suburban office parks, according to the plan. Three-quarters of the office park commuters drive, compared to less than half of those downtown.

“The point is that people in the downtown area drive significantly less,” Levin said. “Based on this information, the city has updated the plan for future development downtown such that only a third of the people in the buildings drive.”

The city’s separate Downtown Precise Plan calls for 2,500 market-rate housing units and 375 affordable-housing units in a 183-acre area, mostly within a quarter-mile of Caltrain and easily walkable.

Financing: Caltrain is owned by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Authority, consisting of the transit agencies of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties. It does not have a dedicated funding source, but receives about $30 million in annual subsidies from the counties.

The subsidy changes from year to year according to the financial condition of the agencies. Caltrain does not receive money from the sales tax measures that have been passed in the counties.

“Every year they’re always scrounging to keep the system going and improve service. It’s a bare-bones thing,” Brandt said. “They need a dedicated funding source such as every other system has.”

A 2017 study showed Caltrain had the highest farebox recovery ratio of any rail-based system in the country, at 70 percent, compared to 54 percent for New York’s Long Island Railroad. That’s partly because commuters move in both directions, reducing empty return trips.

Still, even under optimistic scenarios, the system will require subsidies.

In 2017, the Legislature passed S.B. 797, allowing the Joint Powers Board to levy a sales tax of one-eighth cent to finance Caltrain operations and capital expenses. The tax could only be imposed if the board placed it on the ballot and it was approved by two-thirds of voters in all three counties. It would bring in about $100 million a year.

The Joint Powers Board has been studying whether to put the tax on the ballot in either March or November 2020. A study the board commissioned by EMC Research showed 64 percent support among likely voters in the three counties, close to the two-thirds required.

“There is significant interest from the community in improving Caltrain, particularly as a way to relieve traffic congestion and speed travel along the Peninsula,” the study found. “While it’s not quite at the required two-thirds support today, with the right environment and effort a sales tax measure for Caltrain may be feasible in 2020.”

Support was at the two-thirds level in San Mateo and San Francisco counties, but only 61 percent in Santa Clara, showing a potential problem. “A lot of Santa Clara doesn’t know about Caltrain,” Brandt said.

Another possibility is a nine-county vote on a regional transportation sales tax, under what’s called the Faster Bay Area plan. Caltrain, BART and ferry service would all get money to improve service and connections.

“We’re talking with proponents and stakeholders on both fronts to help determine the best path forward for providing Caltrain with a dedicated funding source that will help implement our service vision,” said Caltrain public affairs specialist Dan Lieberman.

While maximum speed of trains is expected to improve from 79 mph to 110 mph, actual travel times won’t get all that much shorter, because of higher usage of the tracks and the continued existence of some two-track segments, limiting passing.

Under the baseline scenario, the ride from San Francisco to San Jose would take 69 to 73 minutes, about the same as today’s Baby Bullets. That would decrease to 61 minutes under the moderate scenario. The good news is that the longest ride from Redwood City is little more than half that.

Caltrain’s board of directors is hoping to adopt its service vision in October. More information is available at  caltrain2040.org/ .

This story was originally published in the September print edition of Climate Magazine. 

 

Police officer loses control of vehicle during response, striking pedestrian and two cars

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A pedestrian was struck and seriously injured by a police patrol vehicle that lost control on the wet roadway this morning in Redwood City while responding to a home invasion call, according to the Redwood City Police Department.

A K-9 patrol officer had been responding to a call about a possible home invasion in progress when the officer lost control of the vehicle as it was traveling southbound on El Camino Real, south of James Avenue, about 9:50 a.m. A man standing on the center median was struck as the patrol vehicle crossed it, police said.

The patrol vehicle then collided with two other vehicles in the northbound lanes before coming to rest on the east sidewalk, police said.

The pedestrian was transported to a local trauma center with injuries believed to be serious. The officer, a 12-year veteran, and the canine riding in the car did not appear to be injured but were set to be examined as a precaution.

The other drivers involved were examined the scene by paramedics and released.

The collision is being investigated by the California Highway Patrol, with the assistance of the CHP’s Major Accident Investigation Team (MAIT).

Ribbon-cutting set for $64.5M Regional Operations Center

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A ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday will celebrate the opening San Mateo County’s new $64.5 million, 37,000 square foot Regional Operations Center (ROC) at the County Governement Center Campus in Redwood City, across from the County parking garage.

The ceremony will occur at 4 p.m. and will be followed by guided tours of the ROC.

The new center will house the Office of Emergency Services and 911 dispatchers who are currently located in the basement of the Eisenhower-era Hall of Justice. It will also house a secure data center and will feature space for county departments and partner agencies when the Emergency Operations Center is activated.

The ROC will serve as the “go-to location for response and recovery from earthquakes, wildfires, tsunamis, terrorist incidents and other major emergencies,” according to the County.

Supported by Measure K tax dollars, the ROC features 345 columns sunk 40 feet into the ground for seismic support. It is designed to operate for up to seven days without PG&E-provided power or city-provided water.

The building will also be certified LEED Silver by the U.S. Green Building Council.

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